A new report by the European Public Health Alliance has revealed that Big Pharma is fueling the spread of antibiotic resistance through pollution in their supply chains. It probably comes as no surprise that the pharmaceutical industry is apparently cutting corners when it comes to how they manufacture their products, but the fact that it directly contributes to the growing number of "superbugs" plaguing the global population is certainly quite concerning.
The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and the group Changing Markets have called upon major drug manufacturers to radically reduce the amount of pollution created by their facilities. Most antibiotics are produced in India and China, where factories are basically free from any kind of environmental obligation, and as a result these antibiotic factories are literally releasing a stream of waste into the surrounding environment.
When these materials enter the soil and water, bacteria in those environments are able to develop resistance to the drugs. From there, those bacteria are then able to exchange their genetic material with other germs nearby. This may sound crazy but it is actually a well-researched phenomenon. The Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) writes, "Genetically, antibiotic resistance spreads through bacteria populations both 'vertically,' when new generations inherit antibiotic resistance genes, and 'horizontally,' when bacteria share or exchange sections of genetic material with other bacteria. Horizontal gene transfer can even occur between different bacterial species." The APUA also notes that antibiotic resistance can and will spread throughout the environment as bacteria move from one place to another.
Clearly, the pollution created by the pharmaceutical industry is not just a little problem; it is a key player in the creation and proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The EPHA states that Big Pharma is simply ignoring this grievous issue in their supply chain. Changing Markets states that most of the top drug makers display a "shocking lack of concern" over what their suppliers are doing to the environment and the world. A compilation of reports created by the organization revealed that high amounts of hazardous waste were being pumped into the environment in both India and China.
Common Dreams reports:
"One of the world's biggest antibiotic production plants, in Inner Mongolia, was found in 2014 to be 'pumping tonnes of toxic and antibiotic-rich effluent waste into the fields and waterways surrounding the factory,' according to Chinese state television."
Of course, we cannot simply lay the blame at the feet of Big Pharma alone – not when our governments fail to hold big industries accountable. Inaction is equally harmful in a situation like this. Spokeswoman for Changing Markets, Natasha Hurley, said that many times when new policies to combat antimicrobial resistance are being discussed, the role Big Pharma plays is overlooked. She commented, "Our research has shown that the industry is failing to take the necessary action to address the threat of a looming environmental and public health crisis in which it is playing a key part."
The report by the EPHA and Changing Markets does not just call for increased responsibility from Big Pharma; the groups are demanding that the pharmaceutical industry clean up its supply chain and increase its transparency. They are also calling for major antibiotic purchasers, such as the NHS, to blacklist companies who are contributing to the rise of antimicrobial resistance through their faulty and irresponsible manufacturing processes.
They've certainly got the right idea. The only question is, will anyone listen?
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